The Effect of the Social Regulation of Emotion on Emotional Long-Term Memory

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Abstract

Memories for emotional events tend to be stronger than for neutral events, and weakening negative memories can be helpful to promote well-being. The present study examined whether the social regulation of emotion (in the form of handholding) altered the strength of emotional long-term memory. A sample of 219 undergraduate students viewed sets of negative, neutral, and positive images. Each participant held a stress ball while viewing half of the images and held someone’s hand while viewing the other half. Participants returned 1 week later to complete a recognition task. Performance on the recognition task demonstrated that participants had lower memory accuracy for negative but not for positive pictures that were shown while they were holding someone’s hand compared with when they were holding a stress ball. Although handholding altered the strength of negative emotional long-term memory, it did not down-regulate negative affective response as measured by self-report or facial expressivity. The present findings provide evidence that the social regulation of emotion can help weaken memory for negative information. Given the role of strong negative memories in different forms of psychopathology (e.g., depression, posttraumatic stress disorder), these findings may help better understand how close relationships protect against psychopathology.

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